This book was a creative project done for our local library month on altered books. All artists in our area were invited to submit a piece using an old book as the basis of their art work. Tuolumne County Library – Sonora, California – June 2009.
Mine naturally evolved from the research I was already engaged upon of learning more about the life of my great aunt Leonora Holsapple Armstrong. She had graduated Phi Beta Kappa at the age of 19 from Cornell University – class of 1915. Then she had taught Latin in a prestigious girls school in Boston.
She was 25 when she left New York City harbor by ship to Rio de Janeiro. The year was 1921 and not many single young women would undertake such a brash journey all on their own. Most of her family were against the idea of her going unchaperoned to an unknown country where she didn’t even speak the language. They could not fathom what possessed her to undertake such a daunting adventure.
Leonora was to remain in Brazil for almost 60 years as a social worker, educator, translator – the first Bahá’í to settle on the continent of South America. She was fired by her desire to make a difference in the world, as she had been admonished in a letter received from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to become a spiritual physician and minister to the hearts of those in less fortunate circumstances than her own.
Many of her years there were full of difficulties as she strove to make a difference in the lives of the poorer children in Bahia where she began an orphanage and school in 1924.
During her lifetime she received about 36 letters from Shoghi Effendi – The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith – who encouraged her in her social work, teaching and translation work …. She never returned to live in America; she passed away there 17 October 1980 and is buried in Bahia, Brazil.
The book was not intended to be chronological or complete, but rather an experiment using maps, letters, photographs, lacy papers and ribbon etc. that might evoke the image of an Edwardian era young woman going to the barrios of Brazil to work among the poor. The pinks and purples were used to replicate her favourite color – orchid. The maps are overlaid with sheer Thai unryu and Japanese rice papers, tissue, and other printed decorative papers, then painted with acrylic. The oval portrait was hand tinted with acrylic. Some photos of the original book showing streets of South American towns and poverty stricken farmers, smiling children, have been allowed to show through to contrast with the prim pale turn of the century dresses and upper middle class poses of Leonora and her family.
The first Bahá’í in our family was my great, great grandmother Leonora Georgiana Stirling. She was born and raised in London and went as a missionary to County Cork Ireland. From here she emigrated in 1868 to Canada and then the United States. This photograph was taken in Dublin sometime between 1850 and 1860. She did not find the Bahá’í Revelation for another approximately 40 years.
This second photo is of my Great Grandmother Stirling at about the time she found the Baha’i Revelation through a friend in Brooklyn, New York. It was 1906 and she deepened through correspondence with Isabella Brittingham. She met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when he visited America in 1912, both in Boston and New York, in which during one visit He gave her a white rose.
A working bulletin board in researching the life of my great aunt, Leonora Holsapple Armstrong.
My parents were extraordinary. My mother was only 19 when they married and lived in Oxnard in a tiny apartment where she worked for the telephone company while my father was at the Navy base. Only a year later they pioneered, because of the exhortations of the Beloved Guardian, to Kodiak Island in Alaska. He had specified many islands all over the world as goals of the 10 Year Crusade to be opened up to the Bahá’í Faith. And they went. Courtesy of the United States Navy, as Mom always said, and the choice being Kodiak or Japan, they chose Alaska which was still a territory in 1956. (It actually became a state the year that I was born, but that’s jumping ahead a bit.)
They were shipped up to Kodiak and placed in one of several hundred identical little box-like houses on the hill overlooking the Kodiak harbor, named Aleutian Homes. They were pastel-sided two bedroom tract houses that all looked alike – identical one car garages – little wooden steps up to the front door. No garden – just dirt road, dirt yard, wooden step. I never knew why they didn’t live on the Naval Base, but it suited my Mom better to be nearer town and enabled the privacy of not having to live in the fish bowl with other Navy wives. She got a cat named Morgan to keep her company while my Dad was on the Base working or flying in the Arctic as she knew he was doing. Even though he was on secret reconnaissance flights over Russia and unable to tell her anything about it; she went gray by her early twenties.